Seaview headed to Melbourne, laying in for further repairs, medical attention and R&R. Two weeks later, Seaview returned to Santa Barbara with a crew of still weary and bruised sailors. She remained in dry dock for two weeks for still further repairs, followed by a brief shakedown cruise along the coast of California. After a few tweaks, Admiral Nelson declared Seaview fit for normal duties.

First up was a scientific mission to be conducted several hours off the coast of Hawaii. Seaview set sail without Captain Lee Crane. Despite assurances by the command crew that the Captain would be returning, doubts had crept in amongst the crew. It seemed inconceivable to them that the Captain had not been to the boat during dry dock to supervise repairs or appeared for their shakedown cruise.

Even Kowalski began to have doubts, despite Mr. Morton's assurances. "Wicket swears he saw the Skipper's name crossed out on the admission list at the Institute gate."

"Kowalski, Kowalski, how else do you think the Admiral could make sure that he didn't come back too soon?"

"Yeah, but knowing the Skipper, he'd find a way around that. Remember when he first came aboard?" Kowalski subconsciously rubbed his jaw.

"This isn't anything like that. I assure you that the Captain will rejoin us shortly. He's been kept fully apprised of Seaview's business."

"You're sure?"

"One hundred percent, certain."

"It's just not like the Skipper, you know. I mean, it's just his hand."

"Look, the doc laid it out clear for the captain. Without proper rest and physical therapy, he wouldn't be able to pilot FS-1 again, among other things."

"Oh, well, if I'd have known that. That's his baby."

"Glad I could satisfy your curiosity. Now get back to work, sailor."

"Yes, sir." Kowalski said crisply.

"Well, that should end speculation within the hour," Chip muttered to O'Brien.

A week later, the mission completed, Seaview laid into Pearl Harbor. The crew was granted eight hours shore leave. When they returned, each was personally greeted with a warm handshake from Captain Lee Crane. Tanned, fit, bearing a smile ear to ear, to a man the crew agreed he'd never looked better.

Kowalski lingered longer in greeting the Captain than the others. "Great to have to you back, Skipper. We were gettin' worried about you."

"Everyone managed just fine all the same, I'm pleased to say. Turns out I'm not indispensable."

"Maybe not, but you were missed. A lot."

"Mister Morton a little tough on you all?"

Kowalski shrugged in admission.

"Everyone survived, though, right?"

"Yup, although the Chief nearly bought it."

"What happened?"

"Got his leg trapped while stemming a bilge leak and nearly drowned. Lucky for him, the new guy - Rogers - heard him hollering like a banshee."

"Is he okay?"

"Yeah. He's still in sickbay at the tail end of a little pneumonia. Pissed as all get out at not going ashore."

"Can't say I blame him," Lee smiled wistfully.

"Are you all better now, Captain?"

"Probably in the best shape I've been in since I first came aboard."

"That's great, sir," Kowalski said just as he lost the Captain's attention to a knockout brunette standing behind the fence. She waved at the Skipper, then when certain she'd caught his eye, blew the Skipper a kiss. "Well, I can see your R&R topped mine, Sir."

"Mmm," the Captain mumbled distractedly.

Kowalski stepped aboard sporting his own broad grin.

"You look like the cat who ate the canary, Kowalski," Mr. Morton said as Kowalski entered the hatch. "Guess you enjoyed the shore leave."

"No, sir. Well, I mean, yes, sir. I'm just, well, happy that things are back to normal."

"I'll try not to take that as an insult to my captaining skills."

"Oh, no sir, I don't mean that at all."

"It's okay, Kowalski. You just keep looking after him like you always have. It takes a village of us to keep him alive and well. That and a heap of duct tape."

THE END